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F1 2015

It’s here. It is upon us. The long and arduous winter where the long dark nights are filled with designers final touches, wind-tunnels maxing out into overdrive and drivers preparing and training in exotic climes are finally at an end. The 2015 season is almost here.

The speculation over teams (re)joining the grid, financial security and chassis ability will all be resolved, or at least become somewhat clearer on Sunday evening. The yardstick will have been well and truly thrown and the gauntlet set down by some to actively aim at beating over the course of the long season, which finalises in November.

The renewed McLaren Honda partnership has had a slow and solemn berth over the three winter test sessions in the south of Spain. There a several issues, more relating to the electrics and overall packaging of the power unit within the MP4-30. The chassis itself is aerodynamically sound, the drivers have expressed confidence in the cars ability to steer and corner, always a major plus. Australia will be the first time the McLaren will be run in anger, and don’t expect that to be until the Qualifying session on Saturday. The weather is good and the circuit has always been favourable to the Woking squad. The street-like track allows for cars with excellent traction and high-speed cornering ability to excel.

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We should expect to see a slow start for the McLaren Honda. The team will be keen to try and get as many installation laps in as possible, in order to ascertain whether particular parts of the chassis and the power unit are working together. We may even see a lack of running toward the end of the first free practice session on Friday, to make sure that the Honda power unit is not compromised and therefore requiring a change in between sessions, something which will have a negligible effect on the teams programme.

The weather is expected to remain sunny and warm for the entire weekend, so we can rule out a classic Jenson Button style inter-changeable conditions victory here. The overall aim for the squad is to run the weekend as reliably as possible, and score as many points in a race which normally has a high attrition rate. The Albert Park race should not be too large a problem for Alonso not to be a part of, although his presence will be missed, especially with new recruit Andrea Stella waiting for his prompt arrival in Sepang

The word McLaren Honda will want to hear after this weekend:  ‘Dark-horse’.

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McLaren B-Spec on hold

McLaren may be forced to revert back to last years car in the wake of their poor performance at Albert Park last weekend. However, they will only look towards a ‘B-Spec’ chassis if they cannot make inroads on their MP4-28’s lack of pace in Malaysia.

The main bone of contention derives from the change in front suspension towards a pull rod front suspension. Such a layout was used by Ferrari last season and attributed to their poor form for the beginning segment of the year. Such a set-up allows for a lower suspension unit at the front of the car which subsequently lowers the centre of gravity, however, it has to be set up correctly with the rest of the car. Areas such as the ride height, rear anti-roll bar and even front and rear wing angles all have significant impacts on the car handling. As Ferrari discovered last season, a pull rod front suspension has it’s benefits, but also has a very narrow window for performance.

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McLaren engineers and drivers have not had enough running time or experience with the new car to begin to understand what the consequences are to the changes that they make, be it rear ride height, rear camber, front camber, toe or roll bars. The scope for potential can be there though, if they get it right.

Albert Park was not the idea circuit for McLaren to gain an understanding or experience with the street circuit track being particularly bumpy. Jenson Button explained they are hoping for inroads at a smoother Sepang circuit, “Hopefully in Malaysia it’s a smoother circuit, hopefully we will get rid of those issues and we can find a bit more performance,” he said.

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Sergio Perez agreed, hoping that they could produce something a little better next weekend, “I’m now part of the best team in Formula 1 so I’m certain they’ll improve it fast. Going back to this afternoon’s race, I don’t think the Albert Park circuit suited our car very well – it accentuated its problems in fact – so I’m hoping we’ll be able to put up a better showing in Sepang next weekend.”

Team bosses and engineers all held a lengthy debrief on Sunday and Monday to discuss future development routes. They will have an engineering meeting back in Woking after the Malaysian Grand Prix next Monday to see whether they had made successful inroads to continue development on the current car or whether to revert back to a push rod suspension they found so productive last year.

If they do decide to change to a B-Spec chassis, expect it to be before the European season begins. McLaren will not be content with languishing down the points order, and with one less race this season compared to last, every Grand Prix and every result now matters.

Kimi wins in Australia

Kimi Raikkonen has become the jest winner of the 2013 season at Albert Park.

He led home Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel who ensured the podium was an all-champion affair.
Felipe Massa finished 4th ahead of Lewis Hamilton in 5th and Mark Webber in 6th.

Twice leader of the race Adrian Sutil fell away in the final stint to finish 7th ahead of team mate Paul di Resta in 8th. Mclarens Jenson Button finished 9th and Romain Grosjean rounded out the points in 10th place.

Vettel on Pole

Sebastian Vettel took Pole Position at a rain affected qualifying. Mark Webber qualified second, 4 tenths down on his team mate. Lewis Hamilton was third, Massa out qualified team mate Fernando Alonso in 4th and 5th respectively. Early pacesetter Nico Rosberg could only manage 6th whilst the Lotus pair were 7th and 8th with Kimi leading Romain. Paul di Resta ended up 9th ahead of fellow Brit Jenson Button who could only manage 10th in the Mclaren.

The Sunday morning session began with more wet conditions. All drivers used the intermediates until Sergio Perez, Bottas and Jean Eric Vegne unsuccessfully attempted to end the session on the super soft tyre.

Qualifying delayed until Sunday morning

The start of qualifying was delayed by 30 minutes after a rain storm hit the track before the lights when green.

An action packed Qualifying 1 session saw everyone head out on full wets. Rosberg was immediately quick, whilst team mate Lewis Hamilton spun his car on the exit of Turn 1, luckily managing to survive with just a broken rear end plate. Other mistakes came from van der Garde, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez, Mark Webber, Paul di Resta, Charles Pic and a big crash right at the end of the session for Esteban Gutierrez.

Eliminated drivers: Maldonado, Gutierrez, Bianchi, Chilton, van der Garde, Pic.

The start of Qualifying 2 was continuously delayed until the FIA announced that Qualifying would instead take place at 11am on Sunday morning, due to the continuing rain and the lack of light at the track.

Q2 and Q3 are the only sessions left to take place

Grosjean quickest in FP3

Romain Grosjean set the quickest time in a rain affected Free Practice 3 at Albert Park.

His dry time of 1m26.929 was faster than Alonso, Massa, di Resta and Kimi Räikkönen.

The times were wholly irrelevant as rain fell at the circuit after 15 minutes forcing all the drivers to pit and remain in the garages.

Felipe Massa was the driver to go out for a full wet tyre run with 25 minutes remaining. Most drivers then took to the track for exploratory runs on both sets of wet tyre until the end of the session.

With just 10 minutes of the session remaining, Sebastian Vettel pulled off circuit with a hydraulic failure.

Vettel out in front

Sebastian Vettel lead the way at the end of day one in Melbourne.

His time of a 1m25.908 was quicker than team mate Mark Webber by just under two tenths of a second.

Nico Rosberg finished third, Kimi Raikkonen fourth and Romain Grosjean in the sister Lotus was fifth. Alonso’s Ferrari was sixth, whilst Lewis Hamilton ended the day seventh. Felipe Massa, Adrian Sutil and Nico Hulkenburg rounded off the top ten.

The Mclaren drivers languished in 11th and 13th after Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted the car was unbalanced and difficult to understand.

The session got underway with all drivers, barring the Ferrari pair, heading to the track to continue their set up work from the earlier practice.

The Mercedes pair both made early mistakes pushing too hard and running off track at Turn One.

Giedo van der Garde’s session came to a halt on the hour mark after beaching his Caterham in the gravel. Jean Eric Vergne spun at Turn 4 with just half an hour to go.

Most of the teams switched to the softer compound tyre early on and found very little gain in time.

Sebastian Vettel went to the red striped tyre and got held up, but it wasn’t long before he set a quicker time, although he reported it was without KERS.

Lewis Hamilton tried challenging the Germans top time before locking up and going off the track at Turn 9.
With just 7 minutes remaining, the British driver put the Mercedes into the gravel trap after a mistake and lock up at Turn 7.

The day ended badly for Mercedes when Nico Rosberg pulled off the track after Turn 8 with a suspected gearbox problem with just 5 minutes left of the session.

Mark Webber ran out of rear grip in the dying minutes and spun his Red Bull after Turn 13.